It’s not often the living dead are welcomed into pubs—usually, they get in by force—but that’s exactly what happens during the Cleveland Zombie Crawl.
Participants deck themselves out in shredded clothing and throw on makeup for opportunities to win prizes and enjoy drink specials.
There is an ulterior motive: The Zombie Crawl is also a charity benefit for Ohio City.
The brainchild of Dana Novotny, 31, sales associate at Pulte Homes, the Zombie Crawl’s mission is to bring people into one of Cleveland’s oldest neighborhoods.
“I’m from Cleveland,” Novotny said. “And I don’t like to see so many people leaving the Cleveland area. I don’t like seeing people down on Cleveland because I was born here and I love it.”
Enter the undead horde, infusing the lively neighborhood with a little more life.
Although the Cleveland Zombie Crawl isn’t the first zombie charity event in Cleveland—a Lakewood zombie blood drive has been active since 2005—it happened in a vacuum.
“A couple friends of mine and I were out to dinner and we were just talking about doing something fun, getting together, dressing up as zombies and going to a couple bars downtown,” Novotny said.
Though Novotny said the original idea came from talking about Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, thinking about it further gave her the idea to start a charity drive.
“It’s a fun time to be a kid again,” said Phoenix Black, 32, an Elyria resident. “As long as they have a Cleveland Zombie Crawl, me and my wife will definitely be involved. It’s a good cause. It’s a good time.”
Black said he didn’t know the bars the Crawl visited, but he and his wife will “probably frequent” them from now on.
The Crawl started at ABC the Tavern, which found itself packed with zombies. After ABC, the zombies headed to Light Bistro, a block from W. 25th St., where the Crawl began. Most of the staff didn’t see it coming, and the patrons were caught by surprise.
The Crawl later headed to The Old Angle Tavern, where the party ended on the corner opposite ABC. After the music, drinking and games died down, the neighborhood was zombie-free once more.
But the patronage was appreciated.
“A lot of them wound up staying, a lot of them wound up coming back since then,” said David Hridel, manager of ABC the Tavern.
“The bars get something out of it because they see increased traffic for the night, so their revenue goes up for the evening,” Novotny said, also citing the boost charity groups like Ohio City Near West and the Cleveland Foodbank see.
The Zombie Crawl takes donations of non-perishable food from participants and donates them to the Cleveland Foodbank, while monetary proceeds from admission go to Ohio City Near West.
But Novotny and her fellow organizers have work to do: Though attendance was up this year, food donations took a hit, with 70 pounds of food raised this year, 30 less than last year’s take.
“I think that’s because most people heard about the event through word-of-mouth versus the website,” Novotny said. “We’ll be analyzing how we promote the fundraiser next year as far as bringing non-perishable items.”
What’s next for the Zombie Crawl? Expansion, which would likely include more games and live music, Novotny said: “We’re just looking at making it bigger and better every year.”